April 14, 2016 / 7:54 PM / 2 years ago

New York Met Opera's music director James Levine to retire after 40 years

NEW YORK (Reuters) - James Levine, the music director at New York’s Metropolitan Opera for 40 years, will retire this year for health reasons, the Met announced on Thursday.

Metropolitan Opera (MET) musical director James Levine, conducts the MET Orchestra at Carnegie Hall in New York in this October 5, 2008 handout photo provided by the MET April 14, 2016. REUTERS/Cory Weaver/Metropolitan Opera/Handout via Reuters

Levine, 72, who has battled Parkinson’s disease and other health issues in recent years, will step down at the end of the current 2015-16 season in May. He will be named music director emeritus and will continue to work with the Met’s young talent development program, the Met said in a statement.

His successor at the Met, one of the most prestigious opera houses in the world, will be named in the coming months.

With his wild hair, portly figure and bespectacled face, Levine is beloved by musicians, singers and audiences.

He made his Met debut in 1971, becoming music director five years later. He has led more than 2,500 performances, conducting more than 85 different operas ranging from classical to contemporary works.

But ill health has taken an increasing toll. In 2011, he injured his spine in a fall and was left partially paralyzed. After a two-year absence, he returned to conduct using a wheelchair at the orchestra’s podium.

Thursday’s statement said that in recent years Levine had “struggled with the effects of Parkinson’s disease, making it increasingly difficult for him to conduct a full schedule of Met performances.”

Peter Gelb, the Met’s general manager, said on Thursday that there “is no conductor in the history of opera who has accomplished what Jim has achieved in his epic career at the Met.”

Reporting by Jill Serjeant

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